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IU center discusses black women in STEM


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By Sarah Verschoor



It’s a daily challenge to manage being a black woman leading in a man-dominated world. However, you have to overcome it, remember the task you’re there for and stay concentrated, said Erica Jones, a project leader and system engineer from Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana.

Students and professionals gathered Wednesday evening in the Indiana Memorial Union for the black women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics panel organized by Black Women in Technology. B-WiT is a group within IU’s Center of Excellence for Women in Technology, which works to increase the number of women of color within the STEM fields and promote career achievement of black and minority women at IU.

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Kimberly Gold speaks on the experiences she has had at her job and how being a black woman caused her to face certain challenges during the panel talk Wednesday. She talked about how she was the first black woman with a Ph.D. at her job at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division.

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Kristen Hicks, MBA student in the Kelly School of Business, speaks about being a first-generation college student at the panel Wednesday evening. She mentions how looking for more opportunities in higher education was beneficial to her career.

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A variety of students and faculty gather for a panel event about black women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields Wednesday evening. Panelists (from left to right) Kimberly Gold, Kristen Hicks and Erica Jones speak about being black women in the male-dominated industry of engineering.

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“You have to know how to work with diverse people,” Jones said.

The three panelists were Kimberly Gold and Jones of the Naval Surface Warfare Center and Kelley School of Business MBA student Kristen Hicks. Junior Sammy Dube from B-WiT moderated the discussion.

“Today we wanted to celebrate women who are doing big things and women who are on their way to making it,” Dube said.

The panelists shared their experiences studying advanced degrees in business and engineering and their career experiences.

Hicks described her average day as a Kelley graduate student. On most days she wakes up around 6 or 7 a.m., checks her email, reads her scripture, heads to campus or organizes meetings, attends club events and then ends the day with homework.

“Every day is different,” Hicks said. “It’s a rush. It takes a lot of coordination.”

Gold is the only black woman with a Ph.D. in her building at the the Naval Surface Warfare Center. One time, a man approached her and asked her if she was hired just because she was black and female.

“You learn to be witty and have quick comebacks,” Gold said. “You learn to own your space, and you learn to be challenged.

Senior A’Niyah Birdsong is an intern with B-WiT who recently won the 2017 Miss IU pageant.Birdsong used her involvement in the STEM field during the competition advocating for STEM outreach.

She said B-WiT organized the panel as the grand finale of its work this year and to give graduating students insight into the STEM industry.

Birdsong, a biology pre-med student, said one of the biggest challenges black and minority women face in the STEM industry is finding someone who is like them as they enter a field where they are underrepresented.

“It can be discouraging,” Birdsong said.

Birdsong will take a gap year before medical school to complete her MCAT. During her gap year, she will also fulfill her duties as Miss IU, completing a year of service and representing IU.

“My number one thing with STEM overcoming stereotypes and gender biases was letting you know that women can go and venture out and just dominate if they wanted to,” Birdsong told the IDS after winning the competition in February. “Even though you’re underrepresented in these fields, you still can make a bigger impact no matter whatever face you wear. It doesn’t matter your race, your gender.”

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